Adult Mac ‘n Cheese

I’ve long been enchanted by the idea of cauliflower and cheese – such a lovely duo; they seem to be made for each other:  cauliflower’s earthy nuttiness mingling with the rich creaminess of cheese… despite this prolonged infatuation it has simply not been enough to move me to any great culinary action.

Recently, though, I came across an idea for penne combined with cauliflower and cheese that set me on fire!  How perfect!  An adult mac-and-cheese with just enough vegetable thrown in to rate full meal status.Penne and Cauliflower

But was this workable in my tiny kitchen?  Too ambitious?  Well, it was certainly worth an attempt, but I had better think about it…

grater
Two-sided grater

The following items would be needed for prep and cooking

  • 1 quart pan
  • Chef’s knife, small whisk and spatula
  • 3-quart prep bowl with microwaveable steamer/strainer insert
  • Small two-sided grater
  • 2 cup measure, 1 utility bowl
  • 6-cup baking dish for heating and storage

Consider 4 main steps in the prep phase

  1. Prepare the cheese sauce. It can be done well ahead, if time permits.
  2. Boil the pasta.  Cook the pasta, if space permits and add the cauliflower about 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente.  If not cook the pasta, drain, rinse, and hold.
  3. Steam the cauliflower. If not boiling, steam the cauliflower in microwaveable bowl, cover and cook for about 2 minutes, until barely tender.
  4. Assemble the dish. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and cauliflower; stir gently to evenly distribute.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.  Bake, or if preparing ahead, cover and chill.

Yes, I could pull this off.  I just had to remember to work my plan, clean up as I go along, and rinse/ re-use my prep and cookware, or this could potentially turn into a real mess…

And I wasn’t disappointed:  creamy, cheesy, with a slight bite from the cauliflower.  Penne, Caul and SaladThe crisp panko topping was the perfect foil with its extra crunch factor.  A simple green salad was all that was necessary to create a totally soul-satisfying meal.

Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Cheese

Inspired by Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden by Jeanne Kelley

Ingredients
1 ½ cups whole wheat penne
3 cups cauliflower, sliced and broken up
Cheese Sauce
2 tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup smoked Gouda cheese, grated
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 bay leaf
Breadcrumb Topping
1 tbsp butter
½ cup panko or traditional bread crumbs
2 tbsp Parmesan Cheese
Directions

  1. Prepare the Cheese Sauce: In 1 quart pan, melt the butter, add the shallots and cook 2 minutes to soften.  Add the flour and cook 1 minute, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps.  Add the cheese, stirring to melt.  Add the salt, peppers, nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf.  Simmer briefly to blend flavors.  Set aside, can be made ahead.
  2. Bring pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and simmer until al dente, approximately 10 minutes. If adding the cauliflower, add it about 4 minutes before the pasta is cooked.  Drain and rinse to stop the cooking process.  The cauliflower can be boiled separately for 4 minutes or microwaved for about 2 minutes.
  3. Combine the pasta, cauliflower and the sauce and stir gently to distribute evenly. Spread it in buttered 6-cup baking dish.  For bread crumbs:  Melt the butter, add the panko and the Parmesan.  Sprinkle evenly over the pasta mixture.
  4. Bake at the 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top. Yield: 4 servings.

Cornbead: thinking out of the box

Cooking in a small kitchen requires ingenuity and resourcefulness: a small space has limited storage and requires tough choices:  like how much heirloom china do you really need?… and severely cutting back on pots, pans, and accessories. It means taking a close look at every day food choices and meal planning―to the point of rating what falls into the category of ‘food staples’.

Such was the case recently when I threw together a lovely le puy lentil soup, replete with carrot and Spanish chorizo. Yes, it was quick to make, but it was also ready and waiting because I had failed to considered what to serve along with the soup. An oops.

I spotted a kid’s size bag of Betty Crocker cornmeal muffin mix… what about that?   And then, there was the remnants of a jar of sauerkraut in the fridge; not a bad addition to counteract the questionable sweetness of the boxed mix… and while at it, I grabbed some plain yogurt for a little more tang and further lighten it. I quickly chopped up a handful of vegetables for color and crunch, added a few sliced olives, and finished it all with a dusting of grated cheddar cheese on top.  Into the oven it went for a quick bake.cornbread

Truth is, it’s hard to screw up these packaged mixes; they are very forgiving. But how do you elevate them beyond mundane? cornbread,lentils 1

The sauerkraut became an undetectable mystery ingredient that blended with the other vegetables, plus it served to ameliorate the mix’s inherent sweetness and create a little more interest and punch.

You could say I was thinking out of the box―and it was definitely ready in a Jiffy.

Cornbread in a Jiffy

1 small box or package cornmeal muffin mix, Betty Crocker or Jiffy
2 tbsp cornmeal, if available
¼ c yogurt plus enough milk or water to equal a generous 1/3 cup
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil
1 green onion, trimmed, chopped
1 med jalapeno pepper, seeded, trimmed, chopped
2 tbsp sauerkraut, heaping
12 green olives, sliced
1/3 c cheddar cheese, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray or butter a 7″x5″ (approximate) baking pan or dish.
  2. In a 1 cup measure, place the yogurt and enough milk or water to equal a generous 1/3 cup and blend well; add the egg and olive oil, and combine well.
  3. Place the cornmeal muffin mix and additional cornmeal in a medium mixing bowl.  Gently stir in the yogurt mixture, sauerkraut, green onion, jalapeno pepper, and about 1/2 of the sliced olives, mixing only to moisten but not over blend.
  4. Spread the mixture evenly into prepared baking pan or dish. Top with remaining olive slices and sprinkle with cheese.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the top is set and cheese is melted.  Let cool briefly and cut into 6-8 servings.
  5. You could say I was thinking out of the box―and it was definitely ready in a Jiffy.

Gifts of Christmas Past and Present

rasp bars plated editFor many years gift baskets have been my holiday ritual for close friends and family.  Whether they lived next door or across the country, I would spend the entire month of December in preparation:  I’d have lists and time-lines for planning, baking, cooking, packaging and wrapping each specialty basket.

I can’t speak for the recipients, but I know it was the highlight of my holiday season.  I loved every phase, especially the packaging and wrapping.  Each item was individually wrapped and strategically positioned in its basket―filled to brimming and interspersed with surprise gadgets and novelty gifts tucked in amongst the excelsior and raffia.

The chutneys, pickled treats, baked sweet breads, the bars and cookies were a joy to make.  There were those gifts that didn’t go so well, too. One year I included fresh jars of the family’s favorite homemade salsa.  Even with a note on the package Open on Arrival for Refrigeration, my daughter left hers under the Christmas tree where it nearly exploded.

It slowly got to the point that shipping became a major consideration, and the baskets became smaller and lighter.  Now, postal rates nearly equal the cost of the entire project.

This year I  resorted to a hybrid approach:  gift trays for the locals and Harry and David  for the out-of-towners.  Harry and David is a southern Oregon success story and one of the early gift basket mail order firms to make it big.  Their farm stand and subsequent gourmet store launched in Medford, Oregon set a level of excellence that is still maintained today.

So, ok, I’m supporting the home team; but, I do feel as if I have sold out.  The good news is that all the gifts arrived on time (early actually), in good condition, and everyone seems content.   One daughter, on a juicing and raw foods regime, was thrilled with her gorgeous fancy pears.  Another daughter was plowing her way through the Tower of Treats enjoying their famous  Moose Munch…. 

FRasp. bars editor my lucky neighbors, this year’s gift items included an old standby, Raspberry Bars.  These are colorful, quick to make and tasty.  The raspberry jam can be replaced by any type of jam, jelly or preserve.  Since they have been included in past baskets, they are known to hold up extremely well―and even improve with time.

Raspberry Fingers

 Ingredients

  • 1½ cups oatmeal (not quick)
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • ½ tsp. vanilla
  •  5 oz. raspberry jam, seedless
  • ½ cup almonds, chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9×13” pan with foil and spray it with oil.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Pour the melted butter and vanilla over the dry ingredients and mix to moisten thoroughly.
  3. Spread about half of the oat mixture evenly over bottom of the pan and pat it down firmly.  Carefully spread the jam thinly over the oat layer.
  4. Combine the almonds with the remaining oats and sprinkle it over the top and pat down firmly.
  5. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes until lightly browned.  Cool on a rack and cut into 4 rows of 7 fingers.  Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar if desired.  Yield:  24-28 bars.